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Too Many Choices

Question:

I suppose, after 2,500 years, there’s going to be more than one Buddhist tradition, but it seems the more deeply one delves into Buddhism, one finds more and more layers, lamas and resources.

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I suspect that as excellent as Buddhism is, like Christianity, it has its share of charlatans and inflated egos, posing as saintly teachers of the Dharma. Unlike Christianity, however, which for most “westerners” is somewhat familiar territory, Buddhism presents the western seeker with some unfamiliar and challenging aspects right up front. It’s hard to know what’s appropriate, sound and worthwhile

The book stores contain shelves of publications by various Buddhist lamas, monks and writers. The Internet is now full of web sites devoted to one “master” or another.

For the “novice” like myself, this is daunting and more than a little discouraging.

I’d like to know how others have come to find a “path” that seems to be right for them.

Answer:

I agree with you, it’s hard to know where to start.

I think the whole self-help “industry” is essentially based on good Buddhist ideals, just with all the religion and mysticism removed. It’s pretty obvious some of those folks are just out to sell books, yet that doesn’t necessarily make what they are saying wrong. There is more to Buddhism than feel-good-ness, and despite what the Dalai Lama may say, there’s more to it than just love and compassion as well. Those are important aspects, and are certainly attractive, but Buddhism can be complicated at times, as some topics here occasionally show.

In some cases it certainly appears that some of the lamas and rinpoches and so forth are involved in a sort of cult of personality, but it’s hard to say for sure, because if they are in fact enlightened, then they deserve a lot of respect. This level of respect is something that’s hard for westerners to accept. Especially with the importance of lineage in some traditions, it’s hard not to run into some ego somewhere along the line. And yet, if you take what they say, and, as the Buddha said, weigh it against what you know to be true, then you can’t go too far wrong.

How do you know which path to take? There’s no easy route to enlightenment; you just have to put in a lot of time doing research. If you have more than one church or temple in your area, then visit them all; “shopping around” isn’t going to hurt anything, and you will learn quite a bit in the process. There are plenty of Internet resources too, and these can be very helpful (or maybe even MORE daunting) in making your decision. There are plenty of people out there who get ALL their Buddhism through the net, and there’s nothing wrong with that, although you’ll probably learn more, and enjoy the social aspects more, with a “real” sangha.

I don’t think there are too many branches of Buddhism, and I don’t consider any of them perfectly right or wrong; they all teach essentially the same thing, only in different ways using different methods. The tricky part is finding one that matches your personality and way of looking at the universe.

Good luck!

8 comments to Too Many Choices

  • Stefanie

    The most important aspects of the Buddhist teaching relate to overcoming one’s desires or aversions and developing equanimity of mind. All teachers of the Dharma, regardless of their volition, say this and suggest that the way to achieve this is through meditation. It is true that they differ over whether you should close your eyes or leave them slightly open, or where one should rest their hands, etc. etc. To focus on these details is to miss the point: sit down and be where you are. Live every single moment with the utmost concentration on the here and now moment. This the baseline teaching. If you can do this, and do it for a long time and very well, insight will come to you. You will learn what is a matter of taste and style versus what is essential. You will choose some things for yourself and other things you will reject. But the core teaching is the same.

    In much the same way, you can perceive Christianity. Is it more important, for Christians, what ideological value you assign to the sacrament or that you take it? When you are getting married, does the clothing you wear mean more than the person you are pledging your life to? Yes it is true that people trouble mightily over the details of what they will wear at their wedding and wars have been fought over the meaning of the sacraments, but can we not see that it was all pure ridiculousness? Are not the true Christians the ones who love their neighbors and their God as Jesus commanded them to?

    My advice to you is to bring lightheartedness to your exploration of all the many teachers and teachings, while being sure to adhere to the things all Buddhists agree on: mindfulness in all things you do and loving compassion towards all beings, starting with yourself. I sense tremendous fear in you, that you worry you will “get it wrong,” choose the wrong teacher, a “charlatan,” and be led astray. If you find yourself taken with a teacher you later decide is not for you, do not judge yourself. The Buddha himself experimented with many teachers and teachings before finding his way to enlightenment. The only consequence of reading widely and listening widely is that you will be familiar with all the many ideas circulating today about Buddhism.

    But for the sake of your daily procedures, just know that if you focus on your meditation and develop your metta, your insight will grow and you will soon know exactly what your path is to follow.

  • Too Many Choices? – I think not.
    Your personal nirvana is your alone, if you want that destination. How you get there must make sense to you so it may involve balancing out your gurus teaching with the local street bum’s rant (if you catch my drift). I also think that there are many Bodhisattva that appear as common people to most of us, to help humanity.

  • Jerry

    A trip to the library is always a good way to get started with a new area of exploration. When I first became interested in Buddhism, I confess to taking a shortcut route with the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism” and “Buddhism For Dummies”. These may not be the deepest books on the topic but both provide a decent overview.

    One other thought on this – I think most Buddhist teaching share the same core values even though they may go off into widely different directions. It’s probably helpful to find a local group you can sit with and start to develop some understanding.

  • Lee

    Many years ago I had this explained: “If a teacher asks you for your wallet; your mind or unquestioning following whatever they say” or words close to that …. “run away” No true teacher of buddhism will ask for any of that. In fact I have found no true teacher of buddhism will even tell me what to believe…they won’t even answer my questions but instead skillfully ask me a question … some of which have consumed many years of my searching for my answer. Buddhism is not hard … it is quite simple if one just keeps on with the practice. Willingness to keep sitting and looking … like the person above said… with eyes closed, open, partially open … all that is just form and although important it doesn’t matter much. If you chant mantras it doesn’t matter much what you chant … only your intent and your heart matter… and keeping on.

    Lee

  • steve

    wow such great answers to your question!For me i really don”t care what tradition of buddhism that i follow,i am trying to reach enlightenment by awareness/mindfullness and other practices.For me i think that the most important thing is to develop and expand my level of mindfullness
    with equanimity.We are all at different levels i believe due to a large part by our conditioning so what works for one person meay not work for another person

  • Babu

    While The Buddha was walking, one person asked, ‘People say that you are a great man, ….. who/what do you think you are?’ The Buddha answered, ‘I am a person who is awake’. (Please somebody correct me if I am wrong on this).

    Therefore, to the person who asked the question, ‘are you awake’ or ‘are you asleep’? This is what all guys who replied/commented on this query are saying too.

    I guess you are carried by the difference in rituals/style being followed in Buddhism as compared with Christinanity.

    Finally you know what is good and what is bad, because that is the basic difference between man and animal. do according to that. it’s as simple as that. this is basis of all traditions/religions.

  • Trisha

    I have always had an interest in Buddhism and at earlier times I was not able to put a name to it then. But I slowly started to learn more and more about it.

    I recently read almost every book on the subject that I could find. Anything from Jack Kerouac to the Dalai Lama himself, and any information that I find online. And it is daunting.

    I find many things that resonate with me; this is going to be a never ending quest. As with any religion, I pick and choose what feels right to me and apply that to my life. Because I feel that there is not a single religion out there that is completely right. I feel that with everything there is a kernel of truth and I am looking for that kernel of truth in it all.

    I would love to be more specific at this time, but my energy level is shot and am not able to fully express my feelings on this subject. When I do feel in the flow I would like to come back to this subject.

    Thank you for bring this up, because me and my husband where just discussing this very thing the yesterday.

  • Lee

    For years I ‘studied’ buddhism and it resonated with me. Finally I came to a point where i understood I didn’t need to study and find things to believe in I needed to practice buddhism and let go of all the concepts and beliefs I was attached to.